Last month, soon after the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation (AIM) discovered that porn stars Darren James and Lara Roxx had tested positive for HIV, director Adam Glasser, better known as Seymore Butts, announced that he would be mandating the use of condoms in all his movies. This came as a surprise to some who had come to associate his oeuvre with hard-core action and unprotected male-female anal sex. But Glasser, 40, stands by his decision and says the current outbreak, in which four performers have been found to be HIV-positive (a fifth case appears to be unrelated), has been a wakeup call to the industry that condoms—not testing—are the only way to stop the spread of the virus.
“I felt it was something I had to do,” Glasser, star of the Showtime series Family Business, told me in a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. “I felt it was my responsibility to minimize the risk to my performers as much as possible and that using condoms for vaginal- and anal-penetration scenes would minimize that risk tremendously.” He is quick to add, though, that he won’t be using condoms for oral sex, and will continue to show facials—no, not the exfoliating kind—since swallowing is less risky than unprotected sex.
Although several companies are already condom-only, Glasser is the first “gonzo” producer to join them. Gonzo porn is known for being unscripted, wall-to-wall sex—essentially, what a scripted video would look like if you fast-forwarded through the setups. One of the first gonzo directors was Glasser’s mentor, John “Buttman” Stagliano, who, in his 1989 Adventures of Buttman, used a vérité style, participating in scenes himself and doing away with plot altogether. (In 1997, Stagliano announced that he had contracted HIV from a transsexual hooker in Rio.)
These days, as scripted scenarios fall more out of fashion and digital photography allows just about anyone to produce a video, gonzo has become the largest segment of porn. Many associate it with hard-core (although scripted movies can be just as hard-core) and say condoms would kill its appeal. “People say they take away from the fantasy,” Glasser says, “but gonzo is really about reality-based movies. I can see it being very easy to work in condoms naturally.”
To that end, he’s already brainstorming on future scenes: “I got a letter from a condom company telling me they make 55 different sizes and one to fit every one of my performers personally. I’m thinking I’m going to have them send me all 55, bring a bunch of guys and girls in, and do a condom-fitting scene where the guys are finding which one is their perfect condom and testing them out on the girls. It’ll be fun and it’ll be real in the sense that they’ll really be testing them out.”
It remains to be seen whether he’ll stick to his decision; after the last adult-industry HIV outbreak, in 1998, six studios announced they were going condom-only, but only three, Vivid, Wicked, and VCA, use condoms today. Even if Glasser backpedals, though, this outbreak is raising new discussions in the heterosexual-porn industry. While gay porn relies on condoms instead of testing, the strategy in straight porn since 1998 has been a self-imposed system of monthly tests for performers, who are supposed to show their results to those they work with. Glasser says that in light of the recent crisis, some in the industry are predicting that the L.A. County Health Department will mandate condom use on all adult sets (insert joke about who’d sign up for the regulator jobs). Proponents of condom use like Glasser say self-regulation is the only way to keep the authorities out of their business.
“Seymore Butts thinks it will be ‘very easy to work in condoms naturally.’ ”
In the six years since aim began testing, porn actors’ rate of infection has been shockingly low—the last recorded case was in 1999, and the foundation has performed 50,000 tests. Glasser says some of his peers have been quick to point out that James probably contracted the virus on a March shoot in Brazil: “Some people say that if we were able to quarantine people coming in from out of the country, then we might be safe. But you’re depending on your fellow worker to be honest about the fact that he or she left the country.”
What is perhaps most significant about the current outbreak is that Roxx believes James transmitted the virus to her in a scene that involved double anal penetration (two men at the same time)—and no withdrawal. So-called internal pop shots—where the man ejaculates inside the woman—are increasingly popular these days, perhaps because in a world of aids, risk has somehow become sexy. “When people used to ask me about aids,” says Glasser, “I’d say, ‘There are reasons we don’t have transmissions. There’s no internal pop shots.’ That used to be for proof that the guy came. But now they’ve figured out a way to get the girl to squeeze it out. The industry has gone to the circus acts, and that’s one of the reasons we got ourselves in trouble.”
If more studios move to condom-only, the question will be whether pornography can retain its customary function while depicting sex that’s a more realistic reflection of society. Will porn users begin masturbating to latex porn—and then recall their favorite scenes later while mentally trying to remove condoms from the picture? For some, porn would cease to be porn: It was designed to represent fantasy; it’s an alternate universe where sex happens at the drop of a hat, everyone wants it, and everyone gets it. Yet porn has evolved with the times in many other ways. There is now porn to suit every fetish from wrestling to bug-crushing; there is feminist porn, female-ejaculation porn, transsexual porn—categories that didn’t exist 30 years ago. If condoms are part of our world, maybe porn needs to show them.
Until that happens, a better compromise might be for directors to stop shooting double anal and internal pop shots and for female performers to stop working with those who do. Lara Roxx said in an interview with AVN.com that she didn’t know she’d be doing a D.A. until she arrived on set. She says her director and fellow performer Marc Anthony told her, “ ‘That’s what we need. It’s either that or nothing.’ ” In an industry that brings in an estimated $9 billion a year, it’s the porn-makers, not the actors, who have the power.
Glasser is hoping he won’t lose money on his bet—and says he’s even found a silver lining: “This might make my non-condom product more valuable.” And if the condom-try-on scene doesn’t catch on with fans, technology may come to the rescue, he says. “I’ve had people tell me that they can digitally remove condoms from movies now. And even if they can’t, it’s only a matter of time.”